February 13, 2011

The Mermaid's Tale

Slow sail'd the weary mariners and saw,
Betwixt the green brink and the running foam,
Sweet faces, rounded arms, and bosoms prest
To little harps of gold.      
 Lord Alfred Tennyson, The Sea Fairies

Since the time of ancient Greeks, tales of a mythical sea creature, part female, part fish, have inspired artists, poets, musicians and sailors. Described with the head and body of a woman and a fishtail replacing legs, these folklore figures have been known to lure lusty sailors to their deaths. 

Christopher Columbus noted in his log of 1493, the sighting of “female forms” that “rose high out of the sea.”   In 1614, John Smith, an English explorer, described seeing a mermaid in the Caribbean:  “Her long green hair imparted to her an original character by no means unattractive.” Further entries in his travel log indicated that he’d “begun to experience the first effects of love.”

Love, could it be?  After months at sea, little food, and a bad case of homesickness, ancient sailors probably mistook the sighting of a manatee as a mermaid.  Manatees are lovable, gentle sea creatures.  Most are gray or brown and can grow up to 13 feet and weigh over 2,000 pounds.  (Voluptuous women were the ideal back then!!!)

The largest population of manatees is found right here in Florida.  It is estimated that there are between 1,200 to 3,000 manatees in our coastal waters.  You can find them in shallow rivers, bays, estuaries and along the coast.  They thrive in warm waters which they need in order to survive without cold stress.  

During the winter months you can view them in Anna Maria near the “hump back” bridge (on Bay Street near the City Pier). Manatees are vulnerable to cold weather. During winter season, manatees will gather near power plants which have a consistant warm water output serving as a safe place for adult manatees and their calves.  

If you are interested in viewing hundreds of manatee, then consider a short day trip to the Florida Power & Light Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach.  It’s about a 40 minute drive from Anna Maria Island north towards Tampa.  The center is a state and federally funded manatee sanctuary.  They offer an observation platform for visitors to observe manatees in the wild without disturbing them, along with a tidal walkway, and interactive educational exhibits. Visitors view manatees that gather in the clean, warm water discharge canal between the Big Bend Power Station and the center when the temperature of Tampa Bay falls below 68 degrees.

You can check out the interactive web cam by clicking here:

                         Manatee Viewing Web Cam

Viewing season is November 1 through April 15, and hours are 10 AM to 5 PM daily, no charge.
Manatees have no natural predators. Unfortunately, humans have caused manatees to become an endangered species through hunting (now illegal), inadvertent collision with boats, and habitat destruction.  It is against the law to kill, injure, molest, torture or annoy a manatee. Boaters must remember to reduce their speed where posted and where manatees have been sited. These gentle, slow-moving sea creatures can live to 60 years. 
To learn more about manatees and see them up close, you might be interested in visiting The Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.  They have a Manatee Research Program whose primary goal is to study manatees in Florida.  Mote is located in Sarasota on City Island between St. Armand's Circle and Longboat Key. 
Check it out:  Mote Marine Laboratory
So, now you know.  Mermaids were just a product of lonely sailors’ imaginations….
Or were they?  
There is one more spot to check out just an hour north of Tampa where you can claim your own mermaid sighting. It’s the mysterious blue world of mermaids, manatees, turtles and bubbles, known as Weeki Wachee Springs.  The city of live mermaids is one of Florida’s oldest and most unique roadside attractions.  

Make the most of your manatee and mermaid experiences by checking in with one of  Coastal Cottages vacation specialists who will help you with all the details of your Anna Maria vacation.


  1. We visited the Manatee viewing center last February. What a site! There were hundreds of manatee bathing in the warm water discharge canal. We saw quite a few calves with mothers.

    To our surprise we also saw quite a few stingray living among the manatee.

    It was a memorable experience.

  2. I love these stories of mermaid sitings. I guess those hungry sailors were really lonely!

  3. Just checked out the manatee viewing cam. Very cool. Didn't realize there would be that many manatees swimming together!

  4. Spent the day at the Mote. Saw manatees, dolphins, and sharks. The kids had a great time. We did too!